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Broadband: Data Centres Should be Declared Critical National Assets- MDX-i Boss

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The core business of Data Centres like MainData Nigeria Limited ‘MDX-i’, a MainOne Company, is to deploy infrastructure where enterprises in Africa can easily and safely operate their stored IT systems and data. MDX-I’s products and services, for instance are designed to give businesses unmatched performance at a lower cost without sacrificing flexibility or control.

General Manager of the MDX-i, Mr. Gbenga Adegbiji explaining to ICT Editors about the Data Centre’s operations

General Manager of the MDX-i, Mr. Gbenga Adegbiji says that today’s organizations require access to reliable Data Centers to enhance productivity and seamless connectivity.

The Date Centre operators are making a lot of sacrifices for customers to run at a safe and productive pace, he said during a chat with selected ICT journalists in Lagos, recently. Mr. Adegbiji, however, opined that the three tiers of government need to understand why Data Centres require Critical National Assets status with security and other concession provided. Excerpt.

Changing mentality among banks

Banks, before now, brag about owing data centres. But the question we usual ask them is: do you know what your next door neighbour is doing? Yes, your head office is secured, but how about the outside stations. But if your next door neighbour’s office in Marina gets burnt, how safe is your data. So, when you are looking at data centre, there are several considerations. There are certain rules and regulations which a lot of people fail to consider. We have been talking about Uptime Institute’s certification; Uptime is concerned with concurrent maintainability.

But when it comes to stringent conditions, the TIA942 is more tasking. Aside looking at the history of the place you are locating the data centre, they give specification as to how your data centre should be close to the expressway; how cables should be run. Thus, cable A and B cannot overlap each other. That’s why we give more priority to the TIA942; not because of marketing, but also for operational sustainability. 

General Manager of the MDXI, Mr. Gbenga Adegbiji (2nd right) leading ICT Editors on tour of the facilities

Government support for Data Centres

I think, Government is trying, especially now we are beginning to see patronage from parastatals. For instance, we are hosting the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), and the Joint Tax Board (JTB) is also hosted here at MDX-i. We are in discussions with more government agencies to take advantage of this type of infrastructure. However, more is needed from the government. In other places like China, South Africa, and South Korea, government of those nations understand the criticality of infrastructures like this. They are able to support; because of that, sometimes, they offer concessions.

Sometime last year when we needed to do this expansion, we had to go through the rigour of searching for forex (foreign exchange). You have seen the equipment; they are 100% imported. Imagine if you have to buy dollar at N500/$. You know how much you need to be able to exchange six million dollars. At a point it was difficult for us to meet up.

We were ready to pay but the dollars weren’t available. We need more support from the government to give priority to infrastructure operators like ours. This place was designed and run by Nigerians; I was part of the team that designed it.

Also, in terms of regulatory, a lot of times we see government agencies making life a bit difficult for players to achieve projects in this area. Thus, I believe data centres should be declared national assets by the Federal Government so that priority can be given to us. With that you are going to have more players coming in, because we need more data centres in the country. We need data centre in Kano, Maiduguri, so that internet can be accessed by more Nigerians. By declaring data centres as critical national assets, government will provide protection for the operations.

Who are those hosting at MDX-i?

We have banks; about 70% of all the banks are hosting with us. out of the 22 commercial banks in the country, 20 of them have something to do with MDX-i or MainOne. Stanbic IBTC, for instance, hosts its primary data with MDX-i. When they started it was just for disaster recovery. But at a point they realised the efficacies of our services and decided to bring on the ‘primary’ to us. Majority of these banks started with us from the beginning and have remained with us.

How Much Invested and future investment plans

Today, we have invested close to $35million from inception (2015). We are hoping to spend another $6million. It was estimated that the project will cost $40million. That is why, at inception, some of the publications quoted $40million. We started by investing $25million. Some time, we made additional $4million investment to equip the second wing. This year we are spending $6million and we intend to finish the fourth quadrant for another $4million.

newly purchased racks by MDXi

30% Broadband Penetration by end of 2018: role of data centres

I don’t know how government intend to achieve that this year, because the journey is not a statement journey. There are issues in the industry; even the right of way (RoW). The constitution of the Nigeria concedes powers to the States when it comes to lands matter.

The issue is how does the government intent to achieve the goal? We have been in Lagos and have been talking to the State Government and Ogun State; we are having good traction in Ogun State. Very soon we are going to announce our partnership with the State to develop broadband and connectivity pathway for the State.

Coming back to data centre: data centres are at the heart of broadband, because if you have a pipe you have to pass something through it. A pipe that is not running water is as good as stick. So, what you pass through the pipes are what the data centres host. For broadband to work effectively, you need local data centres so that the issue of latency will not be there. The broadband policy of government should not end in making statement, but should be backed by policies that will enable a level playing field. I don’t know why all Federal Government roads are not having ducts.

By standard, there should be 8-way ducts across the roads. I don’t know why roads are been constructed in Lagos without fiber optic ducts. Broadband means the connectivity should be fast, accessible and available to the people. Most Nigerians don’t really understand what broadband means because most of the connectivity is done on mobile. With broadband, I should sit at home, plug in Neflix and watch movie without qualms. That is when technology will begin to impact lives positively. So, it is not like the agenda can’t be realised, but not something that can be done in a year.

MDX-i’s Plans Beyond Lagos

MDX-i here in Lagos is our flagship project. We have started building the Shagamu centre. We are investing heavily there, where we have 4.5 hectares of land. With such land mass we are limitless to what we can do. We have strong considerations for renewable energy. We are also working on Accra project. We are also building data centre in Cote d’Ivoire, where our parent company has a cable landing presence. We are also planning Senegal. These are because of the demand.

MDX-i is leading the way for broadband Nigeria

Investment like this is not two-day stuff. If you are not committed to it you can’t sustain the business. When we have started, we were running on generator, yet paying the PHCN, paying the staff while having few customers. There is no way you can match the operational expenses.

We also understand that by doing this we are creating value. Of course, infrastructure like this requires a lot of investments, but the investors are not concerned with recouping the funds today.

Foreseeable Threats To Investment of this Nature

If we look at political, we don’t foresee any danger because we don’t belong to any part. Looking at environmental, I would like to break it into two: if you are operating this facility in Canada, it is going to be a lot cheaper, because of the environment itself. Here you need extra energy to be able to condition the rooms to what the servers need. From that perspective we have such challenge which translates to costs and a lot of things.

The other thing is government. If government were to categorise this place to critical national asset, concession should be given to us. That is what is obtainable in other countries. When government officials, like the customers hear ‘MainOne’, oh, they want to make money. We pay so much on demurrage and it is really a challenge. Government needs to categorise data centres as critical national assets. Whether we like it or not technology is here to stay. Yesterday, ‘molue’ buses were the talk in town in Lagos, but very soon people will not even own cars, because driverless cars are coming. Today, we are using Uber to hail cabs and other smart city protects are technology driven.

How much of MDX-i’s capacity Are Been Utilised?

Today, the percentage over 300 racks, I would say that 70% is running live; 10% contracted- implying we have signed the contracts waiting for the companies to bring their equipment. We have the remaining 20% yet to be utilised. Nevertheless, we are on the verge of closing several deals which led to us investing on the other wing. We have estimated that by Match this year, we will run out of capacity. We have customers already booking spaces for the second phase, especially the international OTTs.